Thread starter. I'll hopefully have some pictures later.
The crew today was Taylor, Gerald, Shane, and Trent. Everyone arrived early and we were on the road at 9:15 sharp. The Starbucks and Taco Bell in Downieville are both closed (temporarily?) during the pandemic.
Red Elephant Hill is very soft and muddy due to the recent rains. The challenging sections of the trail were quite challenging today, and it took us about 2.5 hours to run Red Elephant from bottom to the intersection of the Empire Loop. Shane was happy to have an excuse to use his winch as he pulled himself over some very large boulders after a few unsuccessful attempts. The winch later came in handy when he pulled my sideways Jeep back onto the trail as the mud and rocks caused me to slide into a very precarious position on the edge of the trail.
The Empire Loop trail offered more slow progress, though considerably faster than the trip up Red Elephant. We stopped at the Empire Hilton for lunch around 12:45 as the afternoon rain started. We would have rain the rest of the day. We began to see many more trail users after lunch and briefly picked up two lost Jeeps who could not find the turn off for Bill Moore Lake. Confusingly, they asked me if they were on Switzerland Trail. I wasn't quite prepared for that question, given they were probably 45 miles from that trail, so I told them they were on the Empire Loop and came to understand they were looking for the lake. Neither of these Jeeps had full tops or door uppers, and they bailed due to rain and fatigue as we approached the turn off for the lake.
We turned onto the Bill Moore Lake trail and ascended as the clouds fell. Upon reaching the lake, the clouds were a few hundred feet over our heads and we could not see the tops of the peaks surrounding the lake. A moderate rain fell, but we enjoyed some time at the lake nonetheless. We all posed on the big rock for the requisite pictures (to follow later!), then returned to the Empire side of the trail to air up and return home. I think it was almost 5pm when we left the staging area at the end of the day, yet we only covered about 16 miles of trail.
Red Elephant Hill was remarkably fun with the mud and rain. The guides I've read warn that the trail can be quite difficult when wet. It did not disappoint. I suspect the trail was greatly improved today by the weather.
Had a great time on the trail with everyone.